“This is story 10 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is Estephanie’s story, written in her own words:
“My name is Estephanie, but friends call me Juelz. I’m the proud mother of Elían, fiancé to Tone, Founder of Divine Eye, LLC, Licensed Esthetician, and Body Sculptress at Adriana’s Beauty Salon.
When I first found out I was pregnant my exact words were ‘holy shit,’ as I smiled. This is not something our family knows, but our son was planned per say. We knew our future wouldn’t be easy and that it would be scary, but we loved each other and knew that we would figure it out. My son turns 4 in January, and man he has been our biggest blessing. Being a mother to me means endless amounts of strength, courage, and resilience. It’s a feeling that no other can ever fulfill.
You can have the crappiest day, but even when your child is figuring out their emotions, they manage to still make you smile. You sit and observe them, you then realize, ‘My God, you were in my stomach. I created those beautiful hands, that smile.’ And then I think, ‘Damn you sound just like me.’ Like Faith Evans said, ‘I never knew a love like this before,’ because my family is different in many ways like many others. We’re all unique. I’m a single mother to Elían while my life partner, Tone, is incarcerated.
Honestly, my mom was aware of our situation from the beginning. However, Tone isn’t just someone I met 5-6 years ago. I’ve known him my entire life. We’ve been a part of each other’s lives since we were 12. We have history, we dated in high school. Puppy love, right? But I always knew he’d be an amazing partner. My fiancé was fighting a case previous to our relationship’s beginning. My mom knew about his past, and they have an amazing relationship. My family didn’t know about his case, and I was very private about people I dated. So when I finally brought someone to the family they were excited. His situation wasn’t my story to tell. It was Tone’s private matters. We didn’t want the negativity to surround us. People are ruthless sometimes with questions and overstepping boundaries.
But of course, secrets always find a way to come out. My family became aware of his case while I was 7 months pregnant. By then, they had gotten to know him for who he was and witnessed how amazing, hardworking, and loving he truly is. They witnessed how attentive he was while I was pregnant and after I gave birth. He made sure to stay home and give his son time. By then, it was too late for the judgement. My family loves Tone. I feel like we just didn’t give room for judgement. We focused on ourselves.
We had a lot of court dates, even before I was pregnant. We never knew which court date they would remand him. My anxiety was pretty high. His case is a federal case, and the judge truly had the say if he’s remanded before his sentencing or not. During my pregnancy, all we did was plan and discuss how we would raise our son. We discussed scenarios because we truly never knew which court would be the last one until it was.
May 15, 2018 my fiancé, my son, and I were joined by other family members as we walked into the federal courthouse located in Oakland, CA. The day had come for sentencing and we believed a miracle would happen due to his many accomplishments and life changing choices.
My life changed in a blink of an eye when the judge sentenced my fiancé to ten years and eleven months. My son was two days away from turning four months old. It was devastating to hear. I dropped to my knees. I couldn’t believe it. It was his first time being sentenced – never missed a drug test, attended all court ordered classes, and worked a full-time graveyard shift (he does drywall). Minimum for each count was 5 years. Tone was just as surprised.
Life was great up until that point. I was doing amazing in my career. My son was healthy after a difficult delivery. We had just mailed out invitations for our wedding. I was very hesitant to plan our wedding, but I said ‘Why live in fear?’ Tone was waiting for me to give him the okay to plan the wedding. I was afraid this would happen and it became my reality. I don’t regret it one bit. Life had different plans for us. We knew the possibility was high, but like everyone, you pray and hope for the best.
The people closest to me understand my position of wanting to wait for Tone. There was concern, but in regards to my mental state. They reminded me of all my options. Reminding me that I too matter and that any decision I took, they would stand by it. Meaning if I waited they would support it, and if I decided to walk away they would support me too.
I haven’t wanted to throw in the towel because of the love and respect I have for Tone. I know I don’t owe him anything. I know this case has absolutely nothing to do with me and I know it’s me putting a lot of hope into the relationship. I cannot get up and leave, I say that because I’d be leaving for the wrong reasons. I’d be leaving because I’m ‘lonely,’ not because I don’t love him or because he doesn’t treat me right. Of course I want my family to be complete, of course I want to have date night to get dolled up while holding hands with my partner, but if I walk away, that’s walking away from my family.
The journey hasn’t been easy. Single moms and mothers like me, who aren’t single but due to circumstances have to do it alone, we forget to praise ourselves for all that we do. There are lonely nights where we stay up to cry, wake up with puffy eyes, and handle business. When there’s so much to be done you don’t know where to start but you do. The amazing memories we create with our children, good and bad that you can look back and laugh.
Motherhood was never supposed to be easy. It is the next step of growth. Motherhood teaches you to unlock those traumas you’ve been avoiding because you don’t want to project it onto your child. Motherhood gets you in a loophole of emotions, but doing motherhood alone without your life partner is hard. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a partner pass away. I’m blessed to be able to receive a phone call, an email, or these days – even a visit.
The first years I struggled with my depression and anxiety but I managed it. I lost myself in that process. I lost my glow. I lost my happiness because I was stripped away from what I thought was my perfect life. In reality, what is perfection? I don’t think anyone knows what that is. I just knew I needed to fight, and that the fight wasn’t going to be easy. Everyone’s first thoughts are, ‘Oh she’s going to leave him, watch,’ or ‘Oh, she’s going to cheat on him if she waits, watch,’ or even worse, ‘Watch her wait and the relationship fails.’ Like sheesh, can we be a bit more optimistic here please?
It truly takes a village, my support system has helped me so much with my child. When I needed to go back to work, all hands were on deck. My mom, mother-in-law, and sister-in-laws helped me take care of my son. Mondays and Wednesdays my mom would watch him, the other days my sister-in-law would watch him, and when she couldn’t anymore my mother-in-law took over. My cousins would come over to help me so I could catch up with laundry or cleaning while they helped me with my son. They watched me break down crying an endless amount of times. My cousins and close friends gave me a safe space to vent and plot my next moves. My mom motivated me even on the days I just wanted to be alone, she made sure to get me out of my comfort zone.
I found love in food. It was my coping mechanism even when I was a teen. However, I knew I needed to do something different but didn’t know what. I created myself a routine. Every week looked the same. But I grew tired of it. I would begin books and I couldn’t finish them. My attention span was so small and I couldn’t understand why if I truly loved reading books. Then it was time to dive deeper. I knew I needed to go back to therapy. I tried it but I was afraid to open the doors of Pandora’s Box. So I stopped, but I started to journal. Not every day, but I tried as much as I could. I prayed a lot and I cried a lot.
As a mother, naturally you are a nurturer. I love nurturing my family, that means my fiancé as well. Not only do I have to learn to cope with my roller coaster of emotions, but I too have to attend to my man’s needs and his vulnerabilities so he doesn’t lose his mind for not being here with his family and witnessing our son grow everyday. That’s his biggest fear because he grew up without a father too.
It’s far from easy for Tone. This was his biggest fear: not being able to watch his child grow up every day. He wishes he could be here, but he has his moments of depression and anger. He writes Elían letters and draws beautiful artwork so he could see them. It’s been harder for Tone when we did have visits – to sit in front of your child and not be able to hug them or even hold their hand due to COVID. If you break the rule, Tone can be sent to solitary confinement. Tone has been in solitary confinement many times during this pandemic, caught COVID twice, and was freezing because it was so cold in those cells.
What hurts the most is not knowing how he will come home from the traumas he’s endured during his life in prison. How he will handle the changes I’ve made during the time he was gone. I worry if we will be able to adapt to the new life after the honeymoon stage fades of having him home. How my son will handle his father being home, if he will react negatively when his dad wants to correct him or if it’s going to be awkward for him.
I can relate with my son because I also had to visit my father in prison until I was 25 years old. I know the feeling when I see my son watch his father enter the visiting room, how his eyes glow, and he cheeses under his facemask. The pandemic has been far from easy – it has been our biggest challenge. As of right now, we have no visits due to COVID-19. The facility is unaware when the visits will begin again due to cases rising. In the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic I organized a protest (#YOSOYTUVOZ Lompoc, CA) with the help of my family and other families to bring awareness to the inhumane acts that were taking place in the prison.
Not seeing each other for almost one year, and now being able to see each other and not hug each other is difficult. Helping my son understand that his daddy does love him but can’t hug him is devastating. Especially when he compares himself to other children and their fathers. I know that feeling because I also would do it as a little girl – but now as a mother it’s by far the worst feeling.
Growing up without a father was difficult. I didn’t understand why my father committed the same mistake knowing the high risk of being away from us. My father has always battled with addiction and being in and out of prison. The time my dad was home we have great memories of him, but I also have nightmares of him. I would take care of my dad when he was coked out. I would intervene in the physical beatings my mother received while he was under the influence. I worried if he would come home or not, and if he came home, I feared what state he would be in.
I’m a daddy’s girl 100% however, it does get overwhelming. It made me a giver and a nurturer yet gave me a cold heart. Although my father is no longer incarcerated, he struggles with his addiction. I can’t believe that although I’ll be 28 next month, I no longer have a healthy relationship with my father. When I’m dealing with heavy stuff I switch to survival mode. It’s been a journey to calm down the survival mode because I have a son now and can’t just get up and leave.
I feel that maybe my family is sympathetic towards my current situation because my mom went through the same thing with my dad. But my father was nothing like Tone. My family didn’t meet my father until after I turned 2 years old because he went to prison while my mom was pregnant with me. My dad wasn’t the best partner for my mother, a lot of healing needed to take place. And with Tone, it was peaceful, no drama, loving, respectful, and family oriented. It was a different experience my family witnessed with Tone. He had similarities like my dad given the choice of lifestyle they chose for various reasons, but he has my Papa’s (grandfather) hard working attitude and detail oriented when it comes to family.
The only thing my son and I can relate to is that Tone is incarcerated for mistakes that were previous to our relationship. The way I’m helping my son with not having his dad around is by teaching him coping mechanisms to help with his emotions while being frustrated. We do a lot of breathing techniques, drawing/painting when he’s sad or having an off day. When he’s mad I tell him to go to his room to take a breather, use the punching bag, or to use his drums. I like teaching him things Tone would teach him, and showing him movies Tone loves. I bring him to work with me, I’ve taught him how to fold towels, and help me with laundry. I do things with him that his dad and I emphasized we wanted to do. I speak highly of his dad and I remind him no matter where his daddy is, that he’s always thinking of him and loves him dearly.
Elían wants to know everything about his dad, from what he eats to what kind of cologne he wears. Sometimes at night is when it becomes harder for me. The hardest question by far has been, ‘Why daddy don’t love me or hug me? I miss him.’ Those were the words I heard the first time we visited him after COVID-19. It was a new facility we were going to and the first time seeing him since the last time we visited pre-pandemic. It was very rough for my son. Again, hearing that from a 3 year old was devastating. It was so hard to put the words together as I cried with him because as a child, I remembered that feeling.
My son is very attached to Tone given the circumstances. Their bond was strong even when I was pregnant. When he would hear his dad’s voice, he’d have a whole party in my belly. One thing about my son is he’s very curious and asks a lot of questions. This year we officially told him his dad was at a camp. He knows that his dad is at a camp correcting his actions by having an adult timeout. And sometimes, as adults we make mistakes and everything has a consequence whether it is good or bad, but when it is bad the timeouts are a little different. They have to go away for a little bit to learn new habits.
However, we emphasize that if it were up to his dad, he’d be at home with us every single day. I emphasize to him how much his daddy loves him. I have pictures of his dad everywhere. My son’s godparents have bought him a Build-a-Bear with his voice recording telling him how much he loves him so he can hear it everyday. Books about his daddy (wonderbly.com), also blankets with pictures of him when he was a baby with his dad.
Obstacles in life will always happen, no matter how great your plan is, no matter how good of a person you are, life will challenge you. I am learning to believe in myself because of motherhood. Everything life has taught me has led up to this moment. So when I find myself asking, ‘Why me?’ I now say, ‘Okay, so what’s the lesson here and where can I grow?’ Being a mother doesn’t mean having all the answers, it means figuring it out with the answers you do have and working from there.
It sounds so simple, but trust and communication is how Tone and I maintain our relationship. We are very raw with our conversations. We have conversations that couples find difficult to have – our fears, our regrets, our happiness, our past, our traumas, things we like about each other, and things we find difficult about each other. I am very open with my emotions and I’m like a firework. And Tone is more reserved and quiet about his emotions. But I can sense it just by the first moment I hear his voice. I cry a lot to him if I’m being honest. I get a sudden rush of guilt for complaining to him and he reminds me that I’m his partner and he needs to talk about these things with me. We pray a lot. We read the same books so we can discuss them to create conversation. I bought a deck of cards for couples to ask questions to get to know each other even more. We try to know everything about each other because all we can do is use our words to explain what and how we feel on a daily basis since we don’t have each other physically here.
I am hopeful Tone will be able to come home sooner than we ever expected. I am hopeful that this nightmare will just be a chapter in our story where we can look back on 20 years from now and say, ‘Damn, baby, we did that.’ Where we can tell our future grandchildren and great grandchildren our love story. Like not only did we overcome this sentence, but a whole pandemic too.
The best advice I can give someone that is dealing with this same scenario is to learn from each other. LEARN EACH OTHER’S TRIGGERS AND LOVE LANGUAGE. Learn to compromise, learn to understand one another. This journey is far from easy, there will be nights that you feel your heart is truly hurting and the tears won’t stop running down your face but it’s during those moments you grow. It’s during those moments you learn that although you feel like the world is against you, it’s not. Never say, ‘Why me?’ Say, ‘What do I need to learn during this time?’ Take this time to truly get out of your comfort zone. Learn to trust yourself because the doubt will eat you alive. Don’t listen to the bystanders, pay attention to the support and love you receive. No one will understand your relationship better than you and your partner.” -Estephanie
“This is story 7 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is Reign’s story, written in her own words:
“The day I found out I was pregnant, it was shortly after my grandma passed away in January of 2018. I found out on February 4th. I wasn’t feeling like my normal self, my stomach was hurting and I was just feeling really weird. When the test results came back, I cried. I was mostly nervous to tell my mom. I was nervous to hear what everyone was going to say.
My son’s dad was very supportive when we found out. He asked me what I wanted to do and how I felt. His exact words to me were, “I’m with whatever you want to do.” I was too scared to terminate my pregnancy, so I decided very quickly that I was going to go through with it. He was happy to find out he was going to be a dad.
The beginning of my pregnancy was very rocky, everyone in my family was so focused on the loss of my grandma and the heartache that it left them with. I had very little support in the beginning. I was told things like I was being “selfish” and that they were “disappointed” in me. I also was told that I couldn’t be “focused on” because of the big loss we just took as a family. What they didn’t know was that this pregnancy was gonna save me. Mostly from self-destruction.
Not until the middle of the pregnancy were things able to run smoothly with everyone excited and becoming more open minded to the thought of a new innocent life. The feeling of not having them be supportive was sickening to me. I didn’t know what I was going to do without my family being happy for me. I was very sad, and on top of the loss of my grandma, I was kicked out of my mom’s house.
I was staying with my grandpa and aunt, and a couple days before my grandma’s funeral, my mom came by and had a conversation with me about what I was going to do moving forward and how I felt, etc. She didn’t apologize, but she expressed that when she got pregnant as a teen mom, her mom didn’t turn her back on her, so she didn’t plan on doing it to me. Over all, aside from family support, I had the most loving, patient, and caring partner by my side during all the tribulations. I was happily pregnant, I didn’t care what everyone was thinking of me. I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t going to change my mind about having my baby.
My original due date was October 3rd. I went into early labor due to the car accident that happened on September 19th 2018. My mom, grandma, and I were just running a few errands – a normal day. All of a sudden, what I can remember was an older man merging all the way into the side of my mom’s car. He was coming from the left side of me. I was in the back seat on the passenger side and my mom veered all the way to the right to avoid impact as much as possible.
To be honest, during pregnancy I hated the seat belt, so I didn’t have one on at the time (worst decision ever), and I had to brace myself with my feet. My first reaction was getting out of the car and making sure my grandma was ok, then to curse the guy out who hit us. An elderly woman and a pregnant woman all in the same car. I was furious, so furious I forgot about my health, in that moment adrenaline took over.
I didn’t feel the urgent need to go to the hospital that same day. I became suddenly tired after the accident, so I went home and got in bed for the rest of the day. My mom also never wrote a police report about it because the other driver didn’t have any information on him. I didn’t have any injuries from the car accident, I just had a back spasm from bracing myself from going forward from impact. My grandma and my mom were totally fine, and my mom had to go to work after dropping us off at home.
After the car accident, I didn’t go to the ER immediately, like I mentioned earlier, everyone was fine and I waited a day and checked into the hospital at 10am September 20th, 2018. During that time they ran tests and monitored me and baby till around 5pm and then finally told me that I couldn’t continue with the pregnancy and the baby has to come now. I was so confused and scared. Everything being told to me, I had them repeat to me twice because I wasn’t quite comprehending nor was I even remotely ready for this just to happen. The decision making and procedure was just so quick.
I’ve always expected birth to be like… I don’t know, honestly I thought something more movie-like. It’s nothing like the movies, babies come at their own pace and they are in their own race. You don’t know what is going to happen next during pregnancy or labor no matter how ready or prepared you think you are. I gave birth 2 weeks early. I was induced twice due to the accident and no, I didn’t know anything about “inducements” prior to this. Nor was I expecting to be induced. This was an emergency induction due to the fact that I didn’t have enough amniotic fluid to continue a full term pregnancy. I was at the doctors 2 days before and everything was fine prior to.
First and foremost, I have never experienced this much pain in my whole entire life, this was the most painful thing I have ever had to endure. I honestly wish they had given me the option to undergo surgery right away instead of having to go through the inducement process. The purpose of the process was to dilate my cervix to prepare for a vaginal birth (or so they thought). The first one was too painful to endure, so they gave me a second option. That one took 3 times to attempt, the final time I was able to endure it and finally got through the hardest part.
Overnight, we waited. On the morning of September 21st, 2018, we were just waking up and all of a sudden the heart rate dropped on the monitor. In less than 2 seconds everyone (nurses, medical assistants, doctors, specialists) come rushing through the room doors and immediately become hands on trying to figure out what is happening. All I heard was, “get on all fours!” “get on your knees and hands right now!” So, I did. As I’m in this position I start screaming to ask for information on what the hell was going on here.
My birth wasn’t an emergency birth because of the accident, it was because of my baby’s heart rate dropping while being induced. I was totally unprepared for this experience. They never gave me a cesarean option or made it seem like an option from the very beginning of the inducement. I never was told I was going to have a C-section until the last couple of seconds before being rolled out of my room. When everyone came to my room to figure out why his heart rate dropped, I overheard a nurse say “roll her out to the OR,” and that was as formal a warning as it was going to get in this story.
Now that I work in healthcare, communicating everything with the patient helps them trust you. It also allows the procedure to take course in a natural flow because narration is leading. Of course, during this time it was an emergency, but I feel like I only felt doubtful or scared because I didn’t know what was going on. Nobody was communicating with me and the environment was chaotic. This part of labor was the most traumatic, the couple seconds that I didn’t know what was going to happen or what could happen.
In those fast 60 seconds, I was being rolled out to the “OR” (operating room). I asked for my child’s father to be present and they told me they would allow him to come in. They never allowed him in, assuming because of the emergency and not knowing the outcome of the emergency. I was upset (at the time) that my son’s dad couldn’t be in the delivery room with me because I needed that extra support. The nurses didn’t want to hold my hand, I was grabbing their scrubs for dear life. I was scared. It would have been nice to have him there with me but now looking back, I know that it was best he wasn’t present because anything could have happened. And instead of having them deal with possibly detaining him from acting on emotions, they were able to just focus on delivering Oriyon safely.
I just remember being SO scared and unprepared for what was happening. None of the videos I watched on “giving birth” went like this! LOL, no more than 15 minutes passed and my baby was safely delivered and healthy. I couldn’t believe it though. I didn’t know what he was going to look like, I didn’t know that I was going to have him so quickly. I was in awe to think that this precious little baby came from inside of me. His dad was able to be the first one to hold him while I was unconscious and recovering from the procedure. I woke up in pain but was able to see and hold my baby boy, Oriyon Hasani, 4lbs 10oz for the first time.
The most traumatizing part of my whole labor experience was being rolled into the operating room without knowledge of what could happen next. And the inducement takes second place to that. To the vaginal birth-giving mothers that may look down on C-section mothers or jokingly say that they didn’t give birth to their baby, I don’t agree. I personally don’t feel like it makes me less of a mother, But I finally understood why moms are the way they are.
In some way, I finally understood what my mom was talking about when she would tell me, “You’re not ready for a baby.” But honestly nobody ever is. I think she meant it in a warning way, like I wasn’t ready for the pain of giving birth but also the pain I would be willing to endure for someone else. Having money, being out of your parents’ house, being over 30, being married, that doesn’t make you any more or any less ready to have a baby.
Being a new mom was hard for me because it was a realization of how I would be fully responsible for this little human, forever. The new thought of having created a whole entire human is still very shocking to me. Everything happened so quickly. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around the fact that I had my baby, right here, and NOW. I began to second guess and question my ability to be the mother I wanted to be. With the reassurance of my family, friends and his dad, I was able to take it one day at a time learn to be patient and get a hang of motherhood.
When I was still in the hospital, I was on an intense amount of drugs. I had access at the tip of my finger, with the press of a button. It was pre-covid so I was able to have visitors come to my room, and of course, people were coming in to see him. I was just so drugged out in pain. I remember what was happening but it’s so blurry as a memory. It’s as if I was watching a movie of someone else’s life. The healing process was horrid for me. At home, I was spending a lot of time alone with my newborn. At the time, I lived with my son’s dad and his family, and everyone would go to work so I was doing things for myself most of the day.
I went through an intense chapter of PPD (Postpartum Depression), and things started to change around me very quickly. I didn’t get enough time to process, just adapt. I suppressed a lot of those emotions. Being a new mom, I was sort of just existing for the first couple of months. There was a lot going on with my new extended family, shortly after I gave birth. My son’s dad went away for a short time and I had to move back in with my mom. I didn’t have much time or space to feel every emotion that I was feeling or wanted to feel. I had to think about my son and what was best for him. My emotions were on the back burner and I wasn’t able to express or identify a lot of these emotions until a year ago.
A lot of my healing is so recent. Oriyon is now 3 years old and I am now 25, I feel like I have just now fully healed from postpartum depression. Now, I’m working through some generational trauma at this point of parenting. I have done a lot of self-reflecting and spiritual work. And I changed my career pursuit. I don’t believe that it takes everyone this long, but I do believe that it takes real work, time, self-reflecting, and acceptance of self.
Coming out of this journey I had to learn and discover who I was all over again. Not like “What’s my favorite color?” or “What’s my regular Starbucks order?” but like allowing myself to have some ME time without feeling guilty, like buying myself some essentials without buying my son anything.
I often share how I feel like my son saved me because of the decisions I could have made. I know myself, and I know I can be impulsive, but because I had my son, I could easily establish what I should be doing. I’m constantly putting my son first. I grew out of a lot of people and bad habits once I became Oriyon’s mom. The first time I experienced death really close in my family, I had bad coping mechanisms. I was unproductive, angry, and I relied a lot on numbing myself – I didn’t really care about much.
Having a baby changed me. It was hard to transition to the mom phase, but it was happening for the better. Getting in tune with my inner being allowed me to be a stronger woman and better parent. Overtime, I learned to separate myself from a lot of things that I felt were hindering me and blinding me. I did what I needed to do to reach what I wanted to obtain. I have wanted to create sustainability for us, to love myself physically and mentally, and to become more patient as a parent.
Over all, I came to a realization that only I was in the way of my own self and I was allowing myself to come up with excuses to be toxic, sporadic, and impulsive. It was important to be gentle with myself and having those breakdowns. The set backs were essential to my personal growth. In the end, the most rewarding feeling is the amount of growth within relationships, bonds, and experiences. Being able to use that in all areas of life to be so full and grateful to the point of self joy feels so amazing. I am truly blessed.
The best part about being a mom is having someone who truly loves you for who you are. As a parent, we don’t realize that our kids look up to us. They look at us as if we are heroes that can make anything happen, they love us unconditionally, and they spend majority of their time with us (as moms). They don’t get to see the struggles or the tears and even if they do, they wipe our tears for us. They could be so young, and still, they know just what to do. Being a mom is so dope to me because it gives me purpose on my darkest days.
I like to think of my pregnancy as a gift from my grandma to have purpose and motivation to keep going. This second family death brought new life. There’s really no telling where I would be without my son.” -Reign
“This is story 5 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is Lexus’ story, written in her own words:
“I guess to fully explain how I had a successful VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean), I would need to explain what caused me to have a C-section to begin with.
My first pregnancy was a healthy pregnancy with no complications with me or the baby. He was healthy and growing at a normal rate. When I finally went into labor, I fully dilated to 10 cm and we started pushing. The entire time I was guided by the nurses in the hospital. The doctor came in a total of two times that I remember. I was kind of annoyed. But then again, it was my first time so I wasn’t sure how the process was supposed to go.
I was pushing for 7 hours, which I know now is unheard of. It being my first pregnancy, I didn’t look too much into what happens during labor, so when the time came I just followed the instructions from the nurses. The entire time one of the nurses kept saying she felt the baby’s head so of course I continued to push. That was the main reason why I continued to push. I figured if she felt his head, he would be coming out soon. At the end of the 7 hours, I started to get a fever. Because I was getting a fever, they had to give me antibiotics which would cause my son to receive them when he finally made his appearance.
At this point is when the doctor came in. It was the 2nd time I saw a doctor. They told me that if I continued pushing, I would cause stress to the baby. They gave me the choice of pushing another 30 mins or go into an emergency C-section. Of course, trying to do the “right” thing for my baby and wanting to have him already, I chose to do the C-section. After the procedure I was informed that my son had ended up breached and that I was pushing him into my pelvic bone. They kept an eye on the baby’s position on appointments leading up to giving birth. He was always head down, so we never worried about anything. It was a hard recovery but at least I had a healthy baby boy.
I definitely wish I did more research on actually giving birth. You see everyone around you doing a vaginal birth, and you never think that you might not have the same outcome. I also wish I would’ve done more research on the actual labor process itself. You hear women going through 20 hours of labor, not realizing that doesn’t mean pushing. That’s going through contractions, your body preparing to give birth.
Now, when I found out I was pregnant again, I was afraid I was going to have another C-section. I thought that after you had one you would have to have all future children the same way. This time around I did more research on the labor and delivery instead of pregnancy milestones. I had learned that you could have a baby vaginally after a C-section. And once I found that out, that’s what I wanted to do.
For the first 3 appointments, I had mentioned that I wanted to have a VBAC, and each time they had asked why and gave me information on what can happen if I did. It was normal conversations you would have about precautions. I don’t know if this was supposed to be a scare tactic and they were trying to persuade me into just going with another C-section, but I wasn’t budging. I felt like they were pushing so hard because it was convenient. I’m not sure if they were used to doing VBACs and would rather just do another major surgery. But my family was super encouraging. I think they knew how much I wanted to do it vaginally.
The doctor did manage to scare my husband. Before our next appointment, we had another conversation about the situation. When we went in, the doctor brought up our birth plan again and asked if we had done much thinking about it and if we still wanted to go with the VBAC. I told them that I wanted to stay with our birth plan. That’s when the doctor told us that because of our labor story with my son, they felt it would be best to have another C-section. He said nothing about my son or my pregnancy seemed to cause a C-section. The doctor said it must have been something with me, that my uterus or my birth canal must’ve been angled wrong and that could’ve caused him to not be able to come out. He continued that my body wasn’t made to have children, and if I continued with the VBAC, I’d most likely do an emergency C-section again. He said it’s safer to schedule a C-section.
Now this was new information we didn’t have before. So my certainty of wanting to do a VBAC went out the window. Now, in my head all I could think of was that I caused my son to have a stressful labor. I didn’t want to do the same to my daughter. I didn’t want to be selfish knowing it could cause harm to my daughter to try and have a vaginal birth. I was upset and scared. I really didn’t know what to think because you always hear that a woman’s body is meant to bear children, and for your doctor to tell you yours isn’t, sucks. My husband and I went over the pros and cons and decided the cons out weighed the pros because it was my body that wasn’t made to have a child.
Our next appointment we told them we would go with a C-section. They never questioned our birth plan after that. I asked many questions about concerns I had, and they pretty much made it seem as though it would be the best and easiest recovery because I had already been through it before. So we scheduled our C-section and that was our new birth plan.
Our C-Section was scheduled for a Friday, a week before my actual due date. We had made arrangements for my sister to come out the day before so she would stay with my son. Having a C-section, you’re required to stay in the hospital for at least 48 hrs, so we did all our planning around that. Well my daughter decided we weren’t allowed to plan her birth. That Monday, I went into labor and delivery because I didn’t feel much movement going on with the baby which scared me of course. She checked out fine and they asked me if I wanted them to check how dilated I was. I declined because I was already scheduled for my C-section in a couple days.
Well, the next day, I started having contractions. I thought maybe they were Braxton Hicks, so I took a shower, but they were still coming after. While I was cleaning and doing laundry, I decided to call my doctor’s office on what I should do. They don’t go into detail on if you go into labor before your scheduled appointment. On a normal delivery, you have to have a certain criteria on where your contractions had to be, but as far as this, I didn’t know when I should go in. They told me I shouldn’t be contracting at all and that I needed to go in ASAP.
I called my husband and told him it was time. Because it was a couple of days early, we had to rush my son to his grandma’s and rush to the hospital. When we got there, I was already 6cm dilated. The nurse had to step out really quick while I was filling out paperwork. When she came back, she asked if I wanted to have an epidural. I told her I wasn’t sure because I was supposed to be having a C-section and I wasn’t sure what the procedure was. Her eyes widened and said, “You’re supposed to be having a C-section?”
She rushed out to go talk to a doctor and came back asking if I was totally opposed to having a vaginal birth. I said that I was told I wouldn’t be able to because of the angle of my uterus. She looked at me and said, “Well, she looks like she’s coming fast. Would you be ok if she came?” I looked at my husband, he looked at me. I asked the nurse if she felt the baby would be safe coming vaginally. She said she did, and from that point, everything changed. I was still in the mindset that my body wasn’t capable of having a baby. I feel like she totally switched my mindset.
The nurse, Norma, went to find an open room. I’m going through contractions. I started telling my husband to find someone to see if I can get an epidural. She came back in and rushed me to a room and introduced me to the nurse that was going to be helping with my delivery. They gave me a high dose of epidural because they still weren’t sure if I was going to deliver vaginally or by C-section because they had to wait on the doctor. I finally got some relief when the epidural kicked in.
It probably was a total of 20-30 minutes from when we walked in, to getting rushed into the labor room. I went from 6cm to 8cm. Norma, my nurse, then started asking me if I wanted to do it vaginally or have a C-section. I told her if she honestly felt I could do it vaginally, I would rather do it that way. She said she really felt I could. She had me sign both approval forms just to be safe. When the doctor finally came in, she wasn’t one I met before in all my visits. She asked me and of course I said I wanted to do a VBAC if she felt I could safely do so. She said absolutely. We labored for another 5 hrs and pushed for about an hour and a half.
My daughter couldn’t make her way under my pelvic bone. Of course, I was getting nervous, so I asked Norma if there was anything I could do to help my baby make it under my pelvic bone. She said we could always try to vacuum to help guide her. I asked her if we could do that. She went to go speak to the new doctor, because at this point, it was a shift change for the doctors and he came in to check if we were a good candidate. He said we were perfect. He placed the vacuum on my daughter’s head, and in one push she came out.
.I had a successful VBAC. I had my daughter the way I wanted to. All thanks to the nurses – Nurse Norma and Dr.Ivie especially – for convincing me that I was completely able to. They proved to me that my body was fully capable of having a baby, that I wasn’t somehow defected. A few women have asked about my VBAC after and had questions on how it went. I tell them my story and how I became an advocate for going for the VBAC. I honestly feel like my previous doctors failed me and discouraged me from having it because it would’ve been more convenient for them. I want to convince other women that you are able to deliver vaginally and that you don’t only have one option after having a C-section.” -Lexus
“This is story 1 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is Savannah’s story, written in her own words:
“Finding out I was pregnant with my first child was a complete shock initially. I had just become my mom’s caretaker full-time after she was involved in a horrific car crash. She was hit head on at the top of Mansell & Visitation. She had just made the left turn going towards Persia Ave. when within seconds, an SUV comes barreling towards her. With nowhere to go, she braced for impact. The driver of the vehicle that hit her passed away instantly. She was able to get herself out of the car and to call 911.
I arrived on the scene and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I thought she was gone. Luckily, she was alive but with internal injuries. I went with her in the ambulance and she spent a couple days in the ICU after having emergency surgery. Then she stayed 2 weeks in the hospital. When she came home I became her caretaker/nurse, and that is when I found out I was pregnant with my first son, Santiago.
My cousin, who was already pregnant, came to visit one day, and as we were talking I looked in the mirror and made a comment about feeling bloated. She came out of left field by saying “It’s cause you’re pregnant.” I laughed and said, “What! No way!” I went home that night, stopped by Safeway, and grabbed the digital test. When I got home I took the test and within seconds YES+ popped up on the screen. I was nervous, anxious & confused… wasn’t I on the pill? More on that another time ha. I immediately thought, “I am having this baby. I am not getting an abortion.” I unfortunately had been through that once before at 19 and it was an awful feeling and horrible situation I found myself in.
After my one and only abortion, I told myself I would never have another. And here I was staring at a positive pregnancy test. I suppressed any negative feelings and started accepting that this was my new reality. On top of taking care of my mother I was now going to become a mother for the first time! My boyfriend of 9 years(now), 6 years at the time, was just as shocked but extremely happy. I knew this was meant to be.
Telling my family was easy just due to the fact of what my cousin said right in front of my mom. It made it less stressful. The person who affected me the most was my stepdad, I thought he would be a bit judgmental. He was anything but, I told him in front of my best friend and mom and he gave me a big hug as I cried and he said, “This is great! A baby is a beautiful thing.” And he’s been the best grandfather to Santiago since.
During my pregnancy with Santiago I was under an immense amount of stress and pressure. I had to take my sister, who was 12 at the time, to and from school, volleyball practice, and anything in between. I drove my mom to appointments, helped with in-home physical therapy, and changed and dressed her open wound. It was a lot, and I believe that stress is partly a reason as to why I had Santiago 6 weeks early.
It was August 24th and my cousin’s bachelor party. My boyfriend was out with them and I was with my cousin, the one who was also pregnant with me but just had her baby a month prior. I was at her house with my sister and mom just hanging out. It had started to get late so we headed home. When I got home I got ready for bed, laid down and turned on my side when I heard a POP! And a gush of water came out. I thought I peed on myself. I called my mom who I was just with and told her. She immediately told me that my water had broken and to go to the hospital. I then called my boyfriend to come home. Now he was drinking so he had to Uber and I had to wait. When he got home he couldn’t believe it and thought I was making it up so he could come home faster. Lol men!
I end up having to drive to my own labor. We got there, and pre-Covid times everyone met me there. My cousin, mom, sister, stepdad – everyone who was at the party almost! They first assessed me and sure enough my water had ruptured almost completely. I was just dumbfounded and so so scared. I laid in the triage room staring at the ceiling, so nervous for how the next hours would go. I didn’t know what contractions felt like, or pushing a baby out. I hadn’t even watched any birth videos, it was all just BAM! Here we are.
By this time, luckily my mom’s health had gotten almost 100% better. Her stomach wound had healed. She was still in a walking boot but she was able to drive and take care of herself more and more. That had made me a bit concerned because now I would need to have all my attention on a NICU baby. But he luckily came at the “right/wrong” time.
I was 34 weeks and 1 day and this was my first step into motherhood – delivering a premature baby. I was a wreck! I was so confused, how could this happen? What did I do wrong? They wheeled me into the delivery room and prepped me for labor. Here it was my journey into motherhood and I was truthfully… scared. I had gotten there at 3am and around 6am they came in and “induced” my labor by giving me Pitocin in my IV. As the contractions started getting more and more intense, they reduced the Pitocin as my body was doing most of the work now.
Around 1:30pm I believed it was time, but my nurse came in and asked if I wanted an epidural. My immediate answer was NO but she pushed and pushed. Me being immature and not educated, I said ok. As soon as they started it, something was wrong, I passed out and the pain was excruciating – worse than contractions! I had to yell to stop and cuss them out a bit because they just weren’t listening. I finally got them to stop and as soon as I laid down out came Santiago with 2 pushes!
Looking back on that, it was extremely scary, The fact that Santiago was in the birth canal descending down as I was getting a needle pushed in my back. I should’ve been pushing already not getting an epidural. I am so glad it did not work because I can do it without the drugs. I have now done it twice and with each new baby I will always do it epidural free.
With Santiago on my chest and the doctors down there working on me, I truly felt like it was a high I had never felt before. I did it! I just had my first baby. I felt that bliss for maybe 30 mins when they had to whisk him away to the NICU. My boyfriend and Mom went and stayed by him while I finished up. By the time I was able to finally hold him again it was midnight and Santiago was born at 1:55pm. To say that was a bit traumatizing is to say the least. A first time mother away from her baby skin to skin for almost 10 hours. As for why he was away from me for so long, is just the fact that he needed a little bit of help with his breathing. We had about 30 mins skin to skin after birth and they noticed he was breathing rapidly, so they had to assess him and put him on CPAP.
CPAP is high flow air to help the surfactant that was immature. Surfactant is what we naturally make to inflate our lungs. As I was getting cleaned up and moved to my postpartum room, I got to go back and see him multiple times but I did not get to hold him until around midnight. He was so tiny and I had never been in a NICU setting before and didn’t know the protocol. I was scared to ask because it is extremely intimidating but when I finally did speak up they said, “Of course you can hold your baby.” And with that they opened the incubator and grabbed all the wires and gently placed him on my chest. It was a surreal feeling I can feel to this day.
Our NICU stay was not bad at all. I sort of miss that time with him. It was just us: me, Fernando, and Santiago. We had a routine. I slept bedside while Fernando slept in the dad’s room along side other NICU dads. We had entered a world I knew nothing about. It was beautiful yet so so sad at the same time. It had me feeling incredible mom guilt because I kept thinking what did I do wrong – why did my water break completely? I over analyzed the situation and still do. But I came to the conclusion that it was not my fault and something was definitely wrong. I either had live cholestasis – which is when your liver releases a bile and your body goes into saving the baby and will break my water, or I was 2 weeks later than I thought and had a slight early birth. As for the liver cholestasis, my hands, feet, face, and my whole body was swollen. I had carpal tunnel in both arms from my wrist to elbow. It was so painful, and all the symptoms I had pointed to that. But I will never know.
While in the NICU, I was so determined to breastfeed. The night he was born the nurse set me up with the pump and just expected nothing to come out. The goal was to at least start to stimulate my breasts. As soon as I started I saw gold, the liquid gold! The nurse was shocked due to the fact he came early. She thought I wouldn’t get anything yet, but I found out soon enough that I have major over production. Santiago was being fed my breast milk through an NG tube, and the first time we got him to latch the next day was amazing. I cried and cried from happiness and relief.
The first few days, Santi would fall asleep fast and I would be discouraged because in order to go home, he had to feed properly. But I had a wonderful lactation nurse and she helped tremendously and here we are still semi-breastfeeding! He’s “tandem” feeding along with his brother now, 3 years later! The NICU stay was not too bad, there were babies there with worse conditions than mine but the fear is just the same.
Santiago was on CPAP for 72 hours and after that, we just needed him to gain some weight. Santi had a bit of jaundice, and for a second I was worried because if they get higher than a 14 on the jaundice level it can be very scary. Mental issues can happen as for a few other scary things. But for a few days he was in the blue light. Every day a wire would come off and then he was in a big boy crib! We passed the car seat test and CPR test. And on September 6, 2018 at 11:30am we got to go home!
Life with just Santiago was so great. I mean truly having a baby is such a trying but wonderful journey. It has tested me in ways I never thought possible – from friendships to familial relationships – it has had the highest highs and lowest lows. Becoming a stay at home mom at 23 was challenging at times. I felt “FOMO” and was sad that I couldn’t jump when I wanted to. But then I would feel mom guilt when I could. I’m still trying to figure out how to manage life outside of my kids and sometimes I do good and other times I let people down.
Before I had kids and I was just a preschool teacher watching other people’s kids for a few hours a day. I thought “I can’t wait until I have my own. It’s going to be so much fun!” But— I didn’t have to go home with those toddlers and peek behind the curtain lol. Motherhood is a beautiful and ugly mess that some women have the natural instinct for. I knew I wanted a second baby close in age with my first and I think I have the perfect gap. 35 months almost exactly.
I wanted to start trying for my 2nd right before Santiago’s 2nd birthday. As I got off BC I thought it would be a breeze- turns out it was anything but. I thought I would get pregnant within that first month of trying but it took me about 3. I got all the ovulation kits and tested my ovulation and just felt stress from that because it wasn’t happening. As soon as I stopped and allowed myself to relax, I got pregnant. Somewhere in the first week of October – Sebastian was due July 10th a day after my birthday. The irony is, I conceived my son the same time my mother conceived me haha.
I was extremely happy to be pregnant and I hoped for a girl, but I did the blood test at 8 weeks and around 12/13 got the email, and my heart sank. I just knew it would read MALE. Sure enough, there it was. I had a bit of gender disappointment in the beginning as many women have talked about. It’s only because I wanted to be done for a bit. All in all, I do want 4 kids, but I wanted to experience it differently, not all at once. So having a girl right now would’ve allowed me to enjoy both genders, and then later on try for our next two. I wanted Santi to have a sibling close in age and now that I am 3 months in, I’m glad he has a brother. Their little sister will be here one day, and they both can dote on her.
My pregnancy with Sebastian was pretty smooth sailing. Aside from taking progesterone shots each week to ensure I wouldn’t go into preterm labor, since they had no real reason as to why I did with my first, everything was a breeze. The progesterone shots were tough in the beginning. I was injecting them into my upper arm. I don’t have much fat there, so it was mostly muscle I was injecting into. With muscle shots they get really swollen and itchy and it’s so uncomfortable. But as my body got used to them, by the time it was my last one, the itchiness and swelling calmed down. I felt so much more secure with my body. I gained less weight, tried to enjoy every kick, every roll, and every appointment. With Covid, it was hard since Fernando couldn’t come in with me. It felt strange going to the appointments alone, I wanted him to enjoy this just as much as I did, especially because I was there so much as a precaution of my first pregnancy resulting in a pre-term birth.
Although this pregnancy went by swiftly it was not without scares. At my 32 week ultrasound, I found out I had what is called Single Umbilical Artery – meaning the artery from placenta to baby was only one when it’s supposed to be two. That is a rare but also “common” occurrence and normally totally ok. They threw words around like smaller weight, amniocentesis, and more. I said no to the amniocentesis because that can do more harm than good, and from ultrasounds, the baby looked fine. Sure enough, Sebastian was born healthy and chunky!
Preparing Santiago for his baby brother was fun, he really understood that there was a baby growing in mommy’s belly. He realized my stomach was stretching and stretching – he kept commenting on how big it was! It was such a special moment when he would feel his baby brother kick and Santi would just giggle with glee! That part of motherhood is priceless!
The day that Sebastian decided to make his arrival was the day after 4th of July. We had a crazy night of fireworks and BBQ! I woke up with some small cramping but nothing that made me worry. But by midday I had seen some pink blood in my underwear, and I knew it was time. I cried because it was never going to be just us 3 anymore, there was another one coming. How could I love him as much as I love Santiago? I mean I even thought that with my dog Honey haha when it was just us 2 I thought how could I love another thing as much as I do this dog lol. But you can, our hearts are huge and there is so much room to love especially our children!
My water broke around 3:30pm as I was packing my hospital bag and it didn’t burst – the whole sac came out into my pants lol! As soon as that happened though, the contractions were ROUGH, so intense to where I thought “Oh no! I’m not going to make it!” We dropped Santiago off at my mom’s house and rushed to UCSF Mission Bay. I could barely even walk when I got there. When they checked me, I was 6 CM dilated!! That’s wild! I barely felt anything until my water had broken.
As they wheeled me in, the nurses asked me repeatedly if I wanted an epidural. I insisted I did not want one and told them the reason as to why. With every new attendee coming in they would tell each other, “No epidural,” and the new nurse would ask, “Why?” It was so strange to me that they couldn’t take no for an answer, and while contracting I had to answer it over and over until I got upset and sternly told them NO. It makes me feel for women that are either too scared or just don’t know how to advocate for themselves when doctors/nurses push things onto us.
Within 20 minutes, I had progressed to a 10! I had to start pushing, and as they were still setting up, I started! I pushed, and within 15 mins Sebastian Antonio was born! Before the last push they told me, “Open your eyes! Grab your baby!” I opened my eyes, put my hands down and pulled out my baby boy and laid him on my chest. Here I was – from a semi traumatic first birth to my second being a beautiful unassisted birth. I thought I had felt that wonderful high the first time, man… I was speechless. Just being able to have barely any medical interventions was truly a blessing. They didn’t even take him from me until I asked them to weigh him. I didn’t have that with Santiago so it was new to me.
After Sebastian was born it was my birthday, and I thought I was fine but I experienced a little bit of postpartum depression. I cried and cried for the first week and a half of his life just because my body felt anxious. I didn’t feel like myself, I was sad even though I just had this amazing birth. I felt unworthy and I had no reason other than immense pressure I put on myself, and crazy hormones running through my body. Through that week and a half, or truthfully whenever I have my moments, Santiago goes with my mom or Nana, his great grandmother. He has a great time with them away from my high energy and sadness. I am so grateful for that but I also feel guilty because I don’t want to be broken for them. I want to be a strong happy mother and be able to push those emotions away and be 100% for them. Mom guilt is such a weird feeling and it’s truly not explainable in a few words.
With my journey now finally at present time, I have enjoyed every second. I am now immersed in newborn coos, tandem breastfeeding, toddler screams lol, and potty training. Being a mom of two isn’t so bad as I may have thought. Santi is at an age where he can help me and wants to help me. He is able to hang out and play by himself while I change the baby’s diaper. It’s a great age gap. Watching Santiago become a big brother has been wonderful. They will be the best of friends and me and their dad are truly blessed with our family right now. I know it’s not yet complete, but it is the best of the best right now.
I do enjoy being a mother, but it’s the hardest role I’ve ever had to take on. I’ve had many roles in my life from eldest sister, student, therapist, to friend, or family, and much much more. But being a mother has tested me in ways I never knew I could. My patience is thin and my self care has taken a back seat. I used to get my nails and eyebrows done almost every few weeks. Now, especially because of Covid, I haven’t gotten to do any of that on a regular basis. I try to keep my skincare routine every night and most nights I’m successful at it. I try to have a bath to myself once in a while, but self care is different now. Now, self care to me is cleaning up and lighting my favorite candle and sitting down on the couch admiring my home. Self care to me is journaling and writing how I feel from day to day. It’s being able to walk onto my deck and smell the fresh crisp early morning air and smile before I start my day. I’m truly lucky if I get all of those in one day, but I know it won’t be that all the time.
I became a mother on August of 2018 and I’ll never stop being one. This is my passion and I truly enjoy it, I don’t see my life any other way and I do not want it any other way.As I navigate through this time, I will always remember that I am never alone, there are women around me walking the same walk. It keeps me grounded and less stressed knowing I’m not the only one! As young mothers, we have the microscope on us, and people are waiting to zoom into our flaws – even our most close loved ones. Give yourself a big hug mama! We got this, our babies will ALWAYS be our babies at the end of day <3!” -Savannah
“Story 9 of 10.This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time,Iwanted to hearyour stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because afterall, who can tell their story better than them?”-Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory
This is April’s story, written in her own words:
“Before I found out I was pregnant, everyone said I had lost so much weight. The thing is, I didn’t even realize it. I didn’t notice until I physically went to go weigh myself and saw that I was at 115 lbs. when usually, I’m 130-135 lbs. I didn’t notice it until I looked back at pictures and saw how my face lost weight and my clothes looked more loose fitting.
At the time, I’d just moved from San Francisco to Merced in Central Valley. I was born and raised a city girl, so moving to the Valley was a big change for me. I didn’t know a lot of people where I was. I only moved because my boyfriend relocated for work, so I moved out with him to the Valley. It was a whole new world to me, I couldn’t just step out and walk across the street to Mission to check out grocery stores. The place wasn’t my vibe, so I was very depressed. I was home sick. I didn’t have much to do or look forward to.
I was still feeling insecure about my body, still feeling ashamed of my arms, or not having more boobs. Growing up, my idea of a “good body” was to be slim and toned. I was always skinny growing up, I had some fat, but I was more…boney? Haha. It was more because I had a fast metabolism because I would eat a lot if I liked the food. I was – and still am – very picky with food, but when I like it I’ll definitely eat a lot. There weren’t places I was familiar with since we had just recently moved there. I had to eat at different restaurants to finally find the places I liked. It wasn’t so much that I wasn’t that hungry to eat but I didn’t really find places that I liked that much. I’m so picky with food and the variety of choices we have in the Bay Area are endless.
I found out that I lost 15 pounds before I got pregnant. How could I lose that much weight and not even know it? But I still felt uncomfortable with my body thinking I looked fat. I noticed my clothes were getting too big and a little more loose. Especially my bottoms! My jeans or shorts would be loose on my ass and waist area, and I’d be frustrated because I liked to focus on my figure, so accentuating it with clothes meant a lot to me.
When I found out I was pregnant, it was because I was a week late on my period. I was on birth control pills, so I wasn’t sure why I was late. Then I went to take a pregnancy test at Planned Parenthood and they told me I was 5 weeks and a day pregnant. It was bittersweet. I was scared. It wasn’t the right time for a baby. I was more worried about telling my parents and not the actual fact that I was pregnant. I wasn’t working, I moved 3 hours away from home, and now I’m pregnant? Being pregnant just felt like something that would make me a bigger disappointment to them. Not to say a child is a disappointment, but for so many things to not be right, it just wasn’t the right time for a baby. Not at all. I wasn’t working. I wasn’t happy where I was. Let alone my relationship was rocky at the time. It was just NOT the time for a baby.
My belly didn’t start showing until about 4 to 5 months in, which in the beginning kind of sucked because I just looked bloated. I didn’t want to wear fitted clothes in the beginning because I looked like I just got fat. I couldn’t wait to finally show my belly and wear clothes to show it off. To just walk around and be able to show people you really pregnant instead of just a verbal confirmation. When my bump finally started to show, it felt nice to be able to match the whole “I’m having a baby” with a big belly. Just walking around rubbing my belly when it was out there starting to show made me feel closer to my baby.
My wardrobe already had loose clothing. I didn’t really buy any specifically for maternity clothes, I just used whatever I had. My clothes were starting to fit tighter just around my belly. It was nice, but also frustrating at the same time because the time it took for me to find clothes that I felt good in was difficult. I wanted to show my belly but a lot of my clothes weren’t appealing to me on my body. I expected the physical aspects of pregnancy, but not the mental or emotional aspects.
I knew I would be insecure about my stretch marks so I got cream early on. To me, they just looked like scratches. I didn’t want them on me. I’m already a little dark, so the stretch marks would be darker and show more. I looked so hard for cream. But to be honest, I only used it a few times and didn’t even remember about putting it on. In the end, it wasn’t that important to me anymore to fit into my routine.
My whole “pregnancy plan” didn’t go as planned at all. I always thought when I became pregnant one day that I’ll be close to my family, but I was a 3 hour drive away. I thought I’d go out more, but I wasn’t in the mood to go anywhere, especially in the heat. A lot of my experiences during pregnancy were the complete opposite of what I had envisioned, which just goes to show you that you can’t always plan for this shit. I always had an ideal pregnancy, even before I got pregnant. I wanted to experience a natural vaginal birth. A C-section is a major surgery, and I never wanted the scar from it. From what I’ve heard and read, a vaginal birth is easier recovery, gave the mother more control over the birth, and I felt like it would give me and my child a deeper connection if I physically pushed him out of me.
We had gone to an ultrasound where we found out my son was frank breeched, meaning the baby’s bottom is down and his feet are by his face. The doctor told me that if he doesn’t flip head first by 38 weeks, we would need to speak about the next steps. I was around 32-34 weeks when they told me, and they say that babies usually turn on their own around 36-37 weeks. Mind you, I always said how stubborn my son was during my entire pregnancy. We had paid for 2 ultrasounds, 1 to see gender and the other to get a 4D image of him a few weeks before his arrival. He would always cover his face! When they tried to find out the gender, he wouldn’t move or turn. So of course, when we get to my 38th week ultrasound, he’s still in a frank breech position.
I was told I would need a C-section, but I also had an option to try an ECV procedure. An ECV procedure is when the doctors push on your abdomen to try to turn the baby from a breech position to a head down position, so that’s a whole 180 degrees. I went in for the procedure, and at first there was one OB doctor trying to push and turn him. Then she called for another doctor to help. I can’t lie, it was painful, but I was willing to go through it to hopefully get him to turn, but he didn’t. That’s when I decided a C-section was going to be the way to go. Choosing to have the C-section was a selfless act because it wasn’t what I wanted or planned for me, but it was the only safe decision with birthing my son.
I don’t think I failed as a mom because I didn’t have a vaginal birth. I still birthed a healthy human being. I just didn’t get to experience the birth plan I had in mind. We focus so much more on how we want to give birth, instead of just appreciating that our bodies are growing a child inside of us. We aim towards having the birth plan we wanted, and if it doesn’t happen, it just brings us down, which isn’t good for the mothers or the baby. I was more afraid of the surgery itself. A lot can go wrong during any surgery, so I was very anxious about it. What if the epidural doesn’t work and I feel everything? What if something goes wrong during the procedure itself? What if something happens to my baby? There were just a lot of unknown questions that were scary about the surgery.
I got a call from my OB about my C-section schedule. I was getting my nails done when he called to schedule it for Thursday, September 19th, 2019. That was only a week away. That’s when it hit me: shit was getting real and we were really about to have a baby. I called everyone to let them know that it was scheduled. Everyone was sending their prayers and well wishes that everything would go smoothly.
It’s delivery day! My C-section was scheduled for 10am, so we had to be there a few hours earlier. But when we got there they were behind on surgeries so it got pushed to 12. The anesthesiologist comes in and has me sit still in order to administer the epidural. They had asked me what music I wanted during the procedure, and I said 90’s R&B. I thought that was pretty cool to be able to choose the music playing, it just set the vibe for it all.
My doctor makes the incision and I just feel pressure and pulling. It doesn’t hurt, it just feels weird because they’re tugging at your insides. The doctor pulls and pulls, and out he came! Jalen had his umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck which the doctor said may have been the reason he didn’t flip inside my womb. But then we hear his cry, and we have a healthy 21 inch, 7lbs 8oz baby boy at 12:55pm. We were in the procedure room since 12pm.
When Jav handed him to me, I didn’t cry. I shed a tear, but I didn’t really cry like how some moms usually say they do, or even what I actually expected of myself. I thought I’d be bawling. All I did was shed a tear. I always felt guilty for that. It made me think ‘does this mean I don’t love my son enough because I didn’t get that emotion?’ It wasn’t until recently where I realized I was just in complete shock. My mind and body had just gone through a whole different experience that I wasn’t really prepared for, like yeah you can study up on what to do but you won’t know what outcomes it’ll bring.
Recovery after my C-section was difficult. I couldn’t even wash or bathe myself, my boyfriend had to do it. Imagine being so strong, enough to birth your child but not be able to clean yourself? It was uncomfortable, but it was so hard for me to bend or move at all because of my cut. I felt so unlike myself and hated that I needed my boyfriend’s help to clean, bathe, and wash myself. He was basically my hands and feet for me. I was grateful for it, but I just wish I could’ve done it for myself. I didn’t like not being able to care for myself. I couldn’t walk for long periods of time and was in so much pain, but walking was part of being able to recover.
Don’t believe people when they say that C-sections aren’t considered real births. Your body physically brought a child into this world, it’s real. It’s not easy. The process, the recovery, the postpartum, it won’t be easy but it’ll be worth the pain, vulnerability, and sleepless nights. Accept the help that people are willing to give you. You just went through a major surgery, it doesn’t make you a bad mom to say you need a break to rest your body while someone cares for your baby. I’ve personally turned some help down, but I get it. You can’t really just mentally and physically walk away for a little bit and focus on yourself because you have someone who depends on you now. But you also won’t get through your recovery if you don’t rest and take care of yourself as well.
In the beginning, the cut was still tender to the touch. I still felt the pain of it so I noticed it way more. I guess you can say I’m kind of a perfectionist, so if shit doesn’t go my way or look right, it gives me anxiety. I didn’t feel like my body looked the way I wanted it to. I knew I’d always have the scar, but I just wanted to see if I could lighten the scar a little bit. But now that I think about it, I obviously didn’t care that much because I didn’t end up buying any cream. I don’t regret having negative feelings about my scar because it made me realize that the appearance of it didn’t matter. No one cares that it’s there because it’s part of my birth story – every mother has one and everyone’s story is different. It’s the story behind the scar, the first selfless act I had to make for my son. A permanent scar to show that I was cut open layers deep with my insides being moved around for the doctor to remove my son. Now I have the greatest joy of my life.
Sometimes I would find myself comparing my body to other moms and their recovery, not even knowing their birth story. But it made me feel down that I didn’t have the energy to exercise or work on my body. I appreciate and have a new found respect for what our bodies can go through as women. To be able to recover and push through, to birth, and raising our little one. I used to just dress with baggy clothing in the beginning of my pregnancy and didn’t like to show too much skin. Some days I’ll look at myself in the mirror, analyze how my body looks lately, and when I’m feeling down about my body, I’ll wear baggy clothes so I don’t show my arms, or wear a t-shirt instead of a crop top because I don’t wanna show my stomach. On days I feel insecure, I mostly try to hide my body. But then there are also days where I’m so proud to have the figure I have even as a mom.
I guess I just moved on from the idea that I have to look a certain way because I’m still young. I didn’t just wake up one morning and was super confident in how I look. I still have my vulnerable days but I’ve started buying more fitted clothes, more crop tops, and clothes that I actually used to wear before I was a mom. I tried to box myself in with what styles to wear to be conservative because I’m a mom, and now I just want to look good for myself and feel comfortable and confident in what I’m wearing.
You can imagine an “ideal pregnancy and birth story” but there’s so much that you don’t know that can happen until that moment, until it happens to you. We are all mothers. No matter what our birth story was, is, or will be. If you focus so hard on what you want and imagine to happen, you won’t appreciate what’s actually happening, you’ll probably even resent the experience because it wasn’t what you expected. But the whole experience is a beautiful gift, you’re bringing a new life into the world. Once you have your baby in your arms you won’t even be so focused on how it came about, you’ll just be grateful, full of joy, and filled with unconditional love.
Don’t compare yourself to other moms. You don’t know what they experienced mentally and physically with their own birth and recovery. Our bodies are all different. Be patient with your mind and body, only you will know what you can take. Be patient with yourself. Recovery isn’t easy and dealing with a newborn is even harder. It takes time to get into your own rhythm and balance that works for you. It’s not about you losing weight, it’s about accepting the body that brought your child into this world.” -April
For as long as I can remember, my family and I have always celebrated my parents’ anniversary in Reno. We would get so excited that we would pack days in advance. My sisters and I would wake up early on those Saturday mornings and prepare for the long drive with snacks. That’s how you know we were going on a trip – when my mom bought the family size bags of all our favorite snacks. That 4 hour drive used to seem like forever. Getting to the rest stop in the mountains was a sign that we had less than halfway to go. I can still see me and my sisters waiting on the side of the lobby as my parents checked in, fighting over who has to hold the Beauty and the Beast suitcase. I can still remember those late nights at Circus Circus, playing the games, winning stuffed animals, and watching the live shows. Then, before going back to the room, getting ice cream would be a must. Me and Merl would play with the stuffed toys we won, and we would stay up late watching TV. That’s how it’s always been, until we got older and turned to the pool instead of Circus Circus. But with the current pandemic, this time around we skipped our annual tradition and kept it local.
This weekend we celebrated my parents’ 30 year wedding anniversary. “But 36 years together!” My mom always adds in. 30 years married and 36 years together, since their wedding date and official date are 6 years and 1 day apart. We’ve always celebrated their anniversary together as a family. But this anniversary felt different. There’s something about every tenth wedding anniversary that gets to you, it’s one of those big milestones. 3 decades married made all 5 of us feel old in our own way. Especially since we weren’t celebrating the way we usually do was definitely a sign of the times. I got my parents, but especially my mom, these orchids because “if someone gives it to you, it will bring good luck.” Haha.We’ll forever remember that their 30th wedding anniversary was during a pandemic. But still, 3 decades is definitely something to celebrate, even if we’ve all been pretty good about distancing and avoiding crowded public places.
We decided to keep it local and celebrated at Pier 39, a place we used to go to when we were younger. If I’m remembering correctly, this is the first family outing we have been to since the shutdown happened in mid-March, aside from drive through birthday parties. I had my first outside dining experience since COVID-19, and it felt a little weird being out again. My dad made it a point to say that he would not eat inside a restaurant. Thankfully, it was a sunny day in San Francisco and outside dining was pleasant…. for the rest of the family, while I – of course – sizzled in the sun because my seat wasn’t in the shade. We had the table furthest from everyone else, with the view of the water and boats. I was blind and slowly baking in the sun majority of the time, but it was still nice. After Pier 39, we played tourists in San Francisco, passing Ghirardelli Square, going down Lombard Street, looking over the city at Coit Tower parking lot since it was still closed, and riding through Chinatown. And apparently my dad took us to where he and my mom had their first date.
My dad and uncle were best friends in high school, and that’s where my parents’ love story begins. Without Uncle Rey, my sisters and I probably wouldn’t be here! They were always at the same functions since my mom and uncle were brother and sister and ran in similar friend groups. I’ve heard about the late night hangouts, bowling, picnics, and all the places they used to go to to meet up with friends. It’s kind’ve crazy to think of my parents as teenagers / young adults. My little sister described it saying, “isn’t it crazy that mom and dad have always been a part of our lives but they had a whole other life before us?” Something that I’ve always thought of, but more so now as I enter into my adult life and think of my future.
Anyways, my mom always tells us how she knew my dad was a good guy because of this particular story. He asked to take her out and she said yes, but only if her home girls could come along too. He said yeah and treated them all out. To my mom, she saw it as him being a very generous guy because he was kind to her friends even though he originally only asked her to hangout. Long story short, they started dating. 6 years into dating, they decided to get married. It’s so crazy to think that my mom got married when she was 26. To put it into context, that would be like me getting married next year. Growing up, I’ve always put my mom’s timeline along with mine as certain age “markers” to eyeball when it would be appropriate for me to do the same – like get married, move out, have kids.
It’s crazy to think that they’ve been together for that long! 30 years married, 36 years together. Damn. Growing up, I thought nothing of it. But now as an adult, I’m more at awe when celebrating their anniversaries. Especially since I see now how a relationship is hard work. If you want something to work, you really have to work for it. My mom was 20 when they first got together, and that is a lot of changing, evolving, and growing together over the years. And it’s sweet to know that they’ve been there for each other through every stage of life. My parents’ marriage taught me that no relationship is perfect, there will definately be disagreements, but if you’re really committed to someone, you find a way to make it work. My parents are definition of ride or die for each other.
I like how after all these years, we still come together as a family for their anniversaries. When we were younger, our trips to Reno were the vacations we looked forward to. Our parent’s anniversary was like a holiday to us. We got to celebrate and get treated out. We got to play games, win prizes, and spend their money. As we got older though, I will admit that Reno and Cache Creek hotels lost it’s touch. We were starting to be in our late teens and early 20’s, and Circus Circus just didn’t have the same effect as it used to. I think this time around, with the pandemic and all of us being young adults – 29, 25, and 23 – we are seeing that these anniversaries are important and… dare I say… limited.
As I grow older it makes me melancholy knowing that not everything lasts forever. So I’m cherishing these moments more because I never know what life will be like 1 year from now, 5 years from now, 1 decade from now when we’re celebrating 40 years of marriage. Now it’s our time to give back to the selfless parents that chose to spend all of their anniversaries with their kids. Now we take them out and treat them out for their anniversary. Oh how the tables have turned, but I like it better that way. They made us happy taking us places and starting traditions since we were kids, so it’s only appropriate that we return the favor now that we are older.
My parents’ 30th wedding anniversary will definitely be one for the books. The pandemic anniversary. Haha. But I’m glad we got to spend it all together as a family. “ThAnK yOu, gUuUysSS!” My dad said in a dumb voice as we drove off leaving Pier 39….We all broke out laughing. That’s the Cabillo’s for ya – can’t show affection properly but be feelin’ all the feelz.
Krizhna and Zarnee’s love story began in 2009 at Westmoor High. They started off as friends their first 2 years of high school, but that changed their junior year. They had multiple classes together and always seemed to be partnered up in English class. Krizhna explains how she always saw Zarnee as just a friend, until she realized that he was always there for her in her time of need, even if that meant venting about another guy. The best friends slowly but surely turned into lovers. This was the start of their journey. Zarnee made their relationship official on December 22, 2011 at the local Macy’s. His support and presence – what initally drew Krizhna to Zarnee – would be tested as they experienced parenthood together.
The couple was 4 years into their relationship when they decided to start their family in 2015. They were both barely 20 years old, and knew people would think they were insane to try to have a baby at that age, so they kept it hush hush. They didn’t have an exact reason as to why they wanted to start a family so bad, but knew it was something they both wanted. At the time, Zarnee and his family were not on talking terms, and at that point, he was out of their house for 2 years already. In a way, starting their own family would compensate for his broken family relationship.
During her break one day, Krizhna went to Target to purchase a pregnancy test. Her best friend and co-worker at the time, Kadigah, was actually the first person to know Krizhna was pregnant. She texted a photo of the positive pregnancy test to an ecstatic Zarnee who was doing laundry. Their joy was through the roof, and they were excited to finally have a family of their own.
“I think that was the first time in a while he was genuinely happy,” Krizhna reminisced.
When it came time to telling Krizhna’s family, she felt as though her mother’s intuition kicked in. Krizhna, her siblings, and her mom sat at the kitchen table in their grandma’s 1.5 bedroom inlaw. She explained that she had something to tell them, but her mom already knew before the words came out of her mouth. Her mom was disappointed but was still supportive. She had the “well, it already happened,” attitude and knew that being upset would not change the fact that she was pregnant. Her siblings were shocked, but followed their mom’s lead. They supported Krizhna’s decision to keep the baby and start a family.
At the time, her dad was still in the Philippines. Krizhna jokes that, “thank god,” her mom was the one that broke the news to him. He was astonished. His attitude was similar to her mom’s. He had told Krizhna, “Well, it’s there already. We just have to accept it.” However, her dad took matters into his own hands and messaged Zarnee on Facebook – asking if he had plans to marry his daughter. In the Filipino culture, being married before having a child is seen as an “essential” step. They felt the pressure of feeling like they “had to” get married, but decided that if they were going to get married, it would be on their terms, not because they feel forced into it. Having a baby on the way didn’t mean they had to rush into marriage to do it the “right way.”
The support from her parents and siblings made Krizhna feel more at ease. But she knew she had one more important person to tell on her side – her grandma. Krizhna, her mom, and siblings lived in her grandma’s home. She has always had high expectations for Krizhna, so when she told her she was pregnant, her grandma had no words. She said very little, sighed, and walked away. Her grandma expressed that she should’ve been focusing on going to college instead of starting a family. Her mom tried to talk to her grandma, telling her that there wasn’t much they could do, they have to just deal with it. Still, her grandma’s mind was made. She wanted Krizhna out of the house – she was so disappointed, she didn’t want to see her. So, she left, at about 2 months pregnant.
She moved in with Zarnee, who was living at a friend’s house. He got kicked out of his family home 2 years prior, and now, his pregnant girlfriend was in the same position. Surprisingly enough, Krizhna expected this reaction from her grandma. She knew that once she told her the news, she was most likely going to get kicked out. Zarnee and Krizhna stayed at their friend’s house a little over 2 months, but they quickly had to find their own place. They looked for different places that they could call home, but ended up getting scammed out of an apartment. Their only option was to live out of their car. They were homeless and living in their car for the remainder of her pregnancy. She was about 4-5 months pregnant.
She was never upset with her mom or siblings for not vouching for her to stay to her grandma. Krizhna’s mom was aware of their living situation, and tried her best to sneak them in when she could. Her grandma would work on the weekends and sleep over her patient’s house. On those days, Krizhna’s mom would sneak her and Zarnee into the house and let them sleep over. When it wasn’t the weekends and her grandma didn’t sleep over at her patient’s house, her mom would still find gaps for them to come to the house to shower or eat. From the beginning of their relationship, Krizhna’s family always liked Zarnee. Prior to the pregnancy, he would offer to drive her family places, and in return her mom would cook more food when she knew he would be coming over, knowing his rocky relationship with his own parents. So even though she got kicked out of the house when she told her grandma she was pregnant, her mom and siblings’ support was still apparent, and she was grateful.
Zarnee, on the other hand, was very conflicted about telling his family about the news. He was kicked out of his family home back in 2013. Their relationship was rocky and he didn’t even know if he should tell them that he was going to be a father. His parents also had high expectations for him, and when they realized that he didn’t want to take the college route, they were very upset. They didn’t agree with his life choices and resented him for not wanting to further his education. The route he decided to take was to work and eventually become a mechanic. Zarnee was confused as to why his family didn’t support his choices. He knew that telling his family that Krizhna was pregnant would be another can of worms, and honestly, he didn’t know if he wanted to open it up.
When Zarnee finally reached out to his parents with the news, they didn’t take it well. They voiced how disappointed they were that the two were going to be parents so young. After he broke the news to them and recieved that reaction, Zarnee and his parents both cut off communication. He didn’t reach out to them and they didn’t reach out to him. He tried his best to remain positive and not let his parents’ words get to him. When he and Krizhna got evicted from his friend’s house, they had nowhere to go. Living in the car with his pregnant girlfriend during cold Bay Area winter was getting the best of him. He knew he had to reach out to his family to ask for help.
He called and let them know that he and Krizhna got evicted from their previous living situation. Zarnee expected some sympathy, but instead, he was greeted on the phone with “I told you so’s.” His parents told him that he put himself in this situation by not listening them. It was “his fault” and he had to deal with it. Alone. Zarnee begged his family to take them in, especially since it was around the holidays during winter time. But his parent’s did not budge on their decision. They couldn’t stay at Krizhna’s grandma’s, they couldn’t stay at Zarnee’s friend’s, and now his parents refused to let them stay at their house as well. Zarnee couldn’t believe it. He felt so betrayed and hurt by his parents’ decision. With still nowhere to stay, they tried their best to remain positive.
“I couldn’t believe that my own parents were not concerned that me and my pregnant girlfriend were sleeping in the car,” Zarnee shared. “I felt like I couldn’t do anything right at that moment.”
On the days where Krizhna’s grandma was home and her mom couldn’t sneak her and Zarnee over, the couple would sleep in their car. When they would saved enough money, they would rent hotel rooms so they could sleep comfortably on a bed. Being homeless and expecting their first child put a lot of a stress on them. They really struggled to weather the storm – not only figuratively, but literally as well. The Bay Area winter was taking its toll on the already struggling couple with more rain and freezing nights.
Krizhna remembers January 18, 2016 to be a very rainy – at times even hailing – day. She and Zarnee were really happy to have a hotel room that night because it meant that she could rest and relax on an actual bed. That night, Krizhna started having intense stomach pains, which prompted Zarnee to call the nurse. This angered Krizhna since she was only 31 weeks pregnant. She knew that she had a handful of weeks left until she would deliver, and didn’t see the need to go to the hospital. But since he already called, they took the advice of the nurse and went to the hospital, straight to the Delivery Department.
When they got there, two nurses quickly admitted Krizhna in and wasted no time hooking her up to machines. She remembers being so confused because no one was really telling her what was wrong or what they were hooking her up to. To add to the confusion, she wasn’t asking many questions either. It was all happening so quickly. They waited at the hospital for a couple of hours because they were told that the high risk doctor wouldn’t be coming in until later. Krizhna dosed off, and a few hours later she was woken up by the doctor who informed her that she would have to be transferred to another hospital. Why? Because they didn’t have the proper equipment to deliver her 31 week old baby. They were in shock, a full term pregnancy is usually 37-40 weeks.
Krizhna was transferred to CPMC. And in her room was the isolette, the little plastic crib where they place new born babies. She asked her nurse if she was going to be giving birth anytime soon since the isolette was in the room. Her nurse confirmed that she indeed was going to be giving birth in a matter of days. Krizhna and Zarnee couldn’t believe it. And on January 22, 2016 – 3 days after being transferred to CPMC – they welcomed their first born, Reginald James.
Krizhna remembers how heartbroken she was. After giving birth to Reginald, she didn’t get to carry him. He went straight into the isolette and then to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Seeing Reginald in the NICU was tough. They remember he was so small and thin that they could see his bone structure. When he was born, he weighed 5 pounds, but he started to lose weight and got down to 2 pounds. The first two weeks of his life were the toughest. They didn’t know if Reginald would make it because he was losing so much weight.
“It was really tough,” Krizhna said. “We witnessed him become a needle bag, lose so much weight to where you could literally see his little tiny bones, to having a feeding tube because he didn’t know how to feed with a bottle.”
“The most challenging was seeing him in the incubator getting smaller and smaller,” Zarnee said recalling how he felt during Reginald’s stay in the NICU. “He had a feeding tube, IV, and a lot of monitors attached to him. There was one instance where he kept moving around too much that the IV wasn’t staying still. So the doctor told us that they had to give him a PICC line. They described it to us as a long thin needle that went from the tip of his finger through the arm to his heart. I remember being so worried…”
Reginald was in the NICU from January 22, 2016 to March 1, 2016. In that time, they got in contact with a social worker who was completely unaware that the couple was homeless and living out of their car. The social worker informed Zarnee and Krizhna that they could stay in one of the rooms in the hospital since that floor was vacant. This way, they could be closer to Reginald since his stay at the NICU would be prolonged, and Krizhna had to pump every 3 hours and supply him with food anyways. This way, they didn’t have to worry about the commute or not being by Reginald’s side. Without hesitation, they accepted the offer. Though the circumstances were unfortunate, they were just relieved that they had a bed to sleep on for the time being.
They stayed in the hospital room the whole time Reginald was in the NICU, about a month and a half. In that time, they really wondered what their next steps would be. Where were they going to live? They had a new born baby now, living in a car would not be ideal. Zarnee had just left his previous job, and Krizhna was on unpaid maternity leave. They felt like they were running out of options. It was when Krizhna’s mom asked her what their living situation was going to be once Reginald was discharged from NICU that made Krizhna realize she had no choice but to reach out to her grandma.
Krizhna knew that she had to put her pride and guilt to the side if she wanted a home for Reginald. She knew that enough time had passed, and that her grandma wasn’t that upset with her anymore. There were times before Reginald was born where her grandma visited her at the hospital, giving her food and checking in on her often. When Krizhna told Zarnee that she planned on asking her grandma if they could stay with her, he agreed. He knew that this was the best decision. And after a lengthy conversation with her grandma, she let Krizhna – and now Krizhna’s little family – know that they were welcome to stay at her house once Reginald was discharged. Krizhna’s grandma was not the only one with a change of heart. Zarnee’s parents brought Krizhna comfort food after she had delivered Reginald, and they were slowly on track to building a relationship again. Things were looking up.
With a roof over their heads, their son out of the NICU, and family bonds being rebuilt, Krizhna and Zarnee felt a weight lifted off their shoulders. They were so eager to start and have a family, and now here they were. Unfortunately, instead of feeling complete and happy, Krizhna felt the exact opposite. The day after Reginald was discharged from the NICU, she drowned herself in work. She remembers working 50+ hour weeks to avoid going home and spending time with her son. She didn’t know why she felt so distant and cold towards the baby she and Zarnee both planned for. So, she used work as a distraction.
Postpartum depression hit Krizhna hard. She felt immense guilt and directly responsible for Reginald being born premature. She blames herself for being under a lot of stress, especially because of being homeless, and taking on a new job at 6 months pregnant to make ends meet. Krizhna believes that it was her fault for why Reginald was not carried to term. He was born at 31 weeks and 5 days, Krizhna beats herself up over the fact that she had 9 more weeks to go. She remembers her last month of being pregnant, she was working double shifts almost everyday and doing a lot of physical work like carrying 30-50 pound boxes.
Krizhna remembers one night where she was so upset. She didn’t know exactly why she was irritated and upset, but all she knew was she wanted Zarnee out. Not fully understanding her emotions, she got so frustrated and took her emotions out on her little family. She told Zarnee to take Reginald and leave, stating that she wanted nothing to do with them. Instead of arguing back and being upset, Zarnee held her and let her cry it out. He was still the guy to be there for her and listen after all these years.
“That moment was when I knew I started a family with the right man,” Krizhna said.
It was confusing for Krizhna because she knew she loved Reginald, but a huge part of her felt like she didn’t want to be a part of his life because she caused him so much physical pain by not carrying him to term. She remembers that first month of his life over and over again in her head – how much he suffered, how scared they were, how helpless he was. And she really believed she was the main source and the one to blame for it all. She used work as a coping mechanism because if she worked more, she wouldn’t have to focus on the fact that she wasn’t bonding with her son, she wouldn’t have to see him, she wouldn’t be reminded of the guilt she felt. So Zarnee cared for Reginald for the first 5 months while she worked.
For the first 5 months of Reginald’s life, Krizhna felt no bond with him. It was really hard because she was still living under her grandma’s roof and being surrounded with family. She felt as though she had to put on a front for her family’s sake because depression is not something that is normalized in her family and her culture as well. There would be times where she would be crying about something that upset her or show that she was upset and her family would brush it off like it wasn’t a big deal. Having people treat her postpartum depression like it didn’t exist or was something not to be upset about really bothered her. She knew her family was supportive of her, but she didn’t feel comfortable to open up about her inner turmoil. Krizhna knew they just wouldn’t get it.
There were many times where Krizhna really felt like seeking professional help for her postpartum depression. But she was terrified. Her worst fear was that they would end up taking Reginald away from them because they’d probably deem her “unfit” to care for a child, and then send her off to a mental hospital. She didn’t feel a connection with him and wanted nothing to do with him, but at the same time she knew that if they were to take him away, she would lose it. Looking back, Krizhna knows that her feelings were in conflict with one another. But she wasn’t going to take that chance of Reginald possibly being taken away.
It wasn’t until Reginald was 5 months old that Krizhna started to bond with him. She remembers the event that changed it all. Reginald was about 5 months old and was really sick. He had a high fever and a boil on his bottom. Zarnee and Krizhna had to take him to the emergency room where they cut his skin open to remove the abscesses from the boil. Reginald was crying like she had never seen him cry before. She could tell that he was in pain by how hysterically he was crying and clenching onto her and Zarnee. Seeing him like that made Krizhna’s heart break.
“Seeing him in that position made me realize how much I love him and how I would do anything to take away his pain,” Krizhna said remembering that emergency room visit. “Ever since that day, I grew closer to Reginald and started appreciating the fact that even though he was born early, he is alive and healthy.”
A little after Reginald’s first birthday, the couple had startling news. She was pregnant again. Krizhna was on the pill briefly, but stopped because she was getting bad side effects. She was not ready for another baby. She called her best friend, Karina, and told her about the news. She cried and vented out her frustrations and worries. After the call, she showed Zarnee the positive pregnancy test. He was so shocked that he didn’t know what to say. Krizhna explained to him that she was not ready to have a second child so soon, and she didn’t know if she wanted to keep it. Zarnee supported her in whatever decision she chose, but they both slept on it. The next morning, she still didn’t make a decision.
It actually took a couple of days of going back and forth on the idea of keeping the baby or not. A few days after finding out she was pregnant, they finally came to a conclusion. They were going to follow through with the second pregnancy. What made them sway in that favor? The two of them thought about their first born and how much he means to them. They couldn’t picture what life would be like without him and they loved him so much. Reginald was the best thing that has ever happened to them, so they knew that even though they weren’t ready, they’ll get through it as long as they have each other.
They were both hesitant to tell their families about the news. Not because they thought they wouldn’t be supportive, but because of how her first pregnancy went and how recent it was. When Krizhna finally told her family about the second pregnancy they didn’t react the same way as her first. Her intuition was right. Instead, they voiced how concerned and worried they were about how the pregnancy would go, given that Reginald was born premature. Little did they know that this time around, it would be worse.
Krizhna and Zarnee describe the following events that took place:
“I had my first prenatal appointment on February 10, 2017 where we had an abdominal ultrasound and saw a healthy heartbeat. Zarnee and I were so happy and relieved. Our doctor told us that my due date was October 5, 2017 and I was even more happy because our baby’s birthday would be close to mine and Reginald’s birthday is close to Zarnee’s and so we felt like it was all meant to be. We started talking to our doctor about what I would do differently this time around to prevent another preterm delivery and we even started guessing what the gender of our baby may be. We were hoping for a girl.
After our ultrasound, we came to accept and embrace our pregnancy, we were filled with joy. I couldn’t wait for my bump to grow and take lots of pictures, have a baby shower – since we didn’t get the chance to have it when we were pregnant with Reginald, for Reginald to be a big brother, to give birth – I was ecstatic.
On February 22 or 23 I believe, I was working one of my double shifts and I had cramps that felt very familiar and I knew something was wrong but I disregarded the pain hoping that if doing so, it would go away? I don’t know, I really don’t know why I had that mentality. I remember it was so painful that I was in the middle of what I was doing and I had to hold my stomach in a fetal position. The pain lasted about 5 minutes. I had a follow up appointment on the 27th and yet had another abdominal and transvaginal ultrasound, but this ultrasound was different from the first one… we no longer saw the healthy heartbeat of our baby… Our doctor didn’t know what or how to say that the baby may not have been alive anymore so he gave us the option of going for a second opinion to see what is going on. I knew right then and there we had lost our baby but Zarnee had hopes so we went ahead and got another ultrasound on March 1 and received the same devastating news. I was numb when she told me that there was no more heartbeat. I felt like I lost a part of me that day.
We went back to our doctor in which he told us that we would need to do a procedure called Dilation & curettage (D&C) to remove whatever part of my baby is in me. He told me that the procedure would take no longer than 30-40 minutes including the rest time. Crazy how fast it is to remove something so precious from me like that. He also gave us the option of bleeding out until clots come out but it would have to come out within a week otherwise I’ll get an infection. He let us know to think over it and call the office back to let them know what our decision was. I didn’t think about it. I told him that I made up my mind and proceeded with the D&C. I didn’t want to bleed out by myself and go through more trauma than what I was already going through. I don’t think I could’ve handled that. He scheduled the appointment for March 3 and he prescribed me 2-3 medications in which I believe one of them was to soften the cervix to make it easier to vacuum whatever is left. I was numb, I was broken.
March 3rd we went in to do a D&C. I was drugged from whatever pill I took but I still felt what was going on and I still knew what was going on but I put up a front in front of Zarnee to distract him from what I was going through because I knew that it broke him seeing me like that. My doctor had come in and I remember seeing this vacuum like machine that he brought in and my stomach dropped. I knew it was time. I knew it was time for me to let go of something that has not been there for a while. I knew it was time. He asked me if I was ready and I said yes but deep inside I wasn’t. I wanted so bad for a miracle to happen but I knew that I was hoping for something that is not going to happen. He did his thing with the vacuum and I remember holding onto Zarnee’s hand so tight because it was painful. I felt the suction of the vacuum and I don’t think the physical pain I felt compared to the emotional trauma I suffered.
Right after the procedure, my doctor said that I was no longer pregnant and everything was out. I died inside hearing that. I did not know what heartbreak felt like until I heard that I was no longer pregnant. I laid in the patient bed for 5 minutes and left. I cried hysterically in the car and we went home and I cried some more. I think I cried for about a week straight. Something in me that day died along with my baby.”
“After hearing our doctor say that there wasn’t a heartbeat anymore, I was very hopeful that there would still be one and that he was wrong. I kept telling myself and Krizhna that there was (a heartbeat). I tried to assure her and myself that from the time we left to the next appointment.
When we got the second opinion, my heart dropped. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. I felt like I got played. I felt crushed. It’s like, there was just a heartbeat and now you’re telling me there isn’t a heartbeat anymore? How could that be? I don’t understand. I didn’t want to understand. When Krizhna got the D&C, it made it so much more surreal that our baby is gone. Dead.
Seeing the doctor use the vacuum to suck out whatever was left of our baby was heartbreaking but what was even more heartbreaking was seeing Krizhna laying down there, sad because there was nothing she could do. Her body is practically being invaded by this tool and I was scared of what could happen to her. When the procedure was done, I didn’t want to leave her side or get her out of my sight because I felt that the least I could do was be there for her after what she had just gone through. That was probably one of the worst days I’ve ever had to this day.”
Krizhna was 4 weeks along when her pregnancy test read positive. When she miscarried, she was about 6-8 weeks pregnant. When Krizhna and Zarnee got out of the procedure, the first person she called was her mom. She cried hysterically on the phone saying, “I lost my baby, I lost my baby.” Her mom advised her to come home. Zarnee also called his parents in the car and when his parents answered, Zarnee lost it. He broke down crying, and they comforted their son saying that everything will be okay.
Krizhna knew that her mom didn’t know what to say or how to comfort her. It was the same with Zarnee’s parents. Nobody knew what to say to make them feel better, and honestly, nothing they could say would make them feel better anyways. By the time they came home, the household was aware of what just happened and they were welcomed with homemade soup from her grandma. Her mom and grandma cared for Reginald all day while she locked herself in her room. She knew that taking care of Reginald while she detached from the world in her room was her family’s way of comforting her. She couldn’t talk about her postpartum depression, and now she found herself in a position where she couldn’t talk about her miscarriage either.
After the miscarriage, Zarnee and Krizhna’s relationship was on the rocks. They were both hurting, but didn’t know how to communicate it or comfort one another. She felt like Zarnee wasn’t hurting from the loss of their child because he wasn’t reacting the same way as her. She acknowledges that Zarnee was trying so hard to understand what she was feeling, but she kept pushing him away. Every conversation seemed to have the same outcome. Whenever they talked, it would turn into an argument, and all of a sudden the miscarriage would be brought up, it would always be followed by silence and tears.
“I don’t know how we got through it,” Krizhna said. “I think it took us a while to be a team again.”
Zarnee handled the miscarriage by going back to work and taking care of Reginald. Having a 1 year old kept him busy, and it also kept him sane. Krizhna recalls only seeing Zarnee cry about the miscarriage once, and that was after the procedure. To her, it seemed like Zarnee didn’t care because he would only talk about it when she would breakdown. She sees now that maybe it was for the best that he reacted that way, because if they were both a “mess,” they couldn’t care for Reginald. Zarnee saw Reginald as his strength during this difficult time.
“Having him kept me sane,” Zarnee admitted. “He made me want to fight and get through it… Even though he doesn’t know it, he really saved me when I was going through it.”
After their miscarriage in 2017, Zarnee and Krizhna started trying again in 2018. And to their surprise, they were pregnant again in April. However, in a span of 3 days, they found out that she was pregnant and then she wasn’t. She knew she was pregnant so she went to the doctor. They did a blood test on her twice to confirm she was pregnant. Her HCG levels were dropping, which meant she was miscarrying. She was exhausted. However, the 2nd miscarriage didn’t effect her as bad because she didn’t get to hear the heart beat, and she wasn’t as far along. But, it did still hurt them. They were discouraged and didn’t want to even talk about trying again.
But a year later in June 2019, she found out she was pregnant again for the 4th time. When she found out she was pregnant, she took a pregnancy test everyday until her 8 week appointment. That was her way to make sure she was still pregnant, and it brought her and Zarnee peace of mind. They were so excited to be pregnant again, but didn’t want to show it. They were very hesitant with being excited, in fear that they would miscarry again. They just didn’t want to have false hope after everything they’ve been through.
Because of their past experiences with miscarrying, they only told a handful of people they were expecting the first 3 months of being pregnant. Krizhna’s mindset was : if I miscarry again atleast I only have to explain it to only a couple of people. But when she reached 16 weeks, she knew she was in the clear to let the secret out of the bag! Now they were beginning to get excited again after 2 years of back to back heart break.
This pregnancy was so different than when she was pregnant with Reginald. Krizhna was nauseous all day everyday, hated the smell of fried food, and was exhausted all the time. She had to take progesterone, a pill that makes sure the baby attaches, and take it vaginally. They would go to bi-weekly appointments to make sure that the baby was okay, given her history of pregnancy. This time around, every little pain she had, she would go to the ER. She was taking no chances. Zarnee was very over protective and made sure that Krizhna was taking it easy and eating all the right foods.
On January 10, 2020, Krizhna was at work when she started to have really bad contractions. She managed to finish her shift and went home. That night, her contractions were so bad that Zarnee took her to the hospital. They informed her that she was only 1 cm dialted, and sent her back home to rest. The next day, her contractions intensified. She really couldn’t take it anymore and her parents couldn’t stand to see her in pain. By 8 PM she was at the hospital and Zarnee met her there coming from work. She was 6 cm dialted, and they informed her that she would be giving birth in the next 24 hours. She was only 34 weeks pregnant and had another month to go.
On January 12, 2020, Mia Alea-Luna was born. This time around she got to hold Mia before they put her in the isolette and to the NICU. Krizhna remembers how much more smaller Mia was compared to Reginald, and this made them worry. Having their 2nd born in the NICU made them nervous. And this time, they didn’t have the housing that came with Reginald’s NICU stay. It was harder because once she was discharged, she would have to pick up Zarnee from work at night and they would visit Mia. Reginald wasn’t allowed in the NICU, so they had to wait until he was asleep to visit as well. Fortunately, Mia only stayed in the NICU for 2 weeks.
Krizhna still experienced postpartum depression after her 2nd child was born. But this time was different. With Reginald, she didn’t want to be around him or connect with him. But with Mia, she was very overprotective. She believes this shift happened because she felt so guilty about how she felt after Reginald was born, that she didn’t want to act like that towards Mia. And it wasn’t because she loved Mia more, but because she knew that Reginald was old enough to witness everything. She didn’t want him to see a disconnect between her and his new sister, in fear that it would traumatize him. And most importantly, she sought help. She sees her therapist once a month and is taking medication for her depression and anxiety.
Their parenthood journey has not been easy. They have faced a lot of heartbreak together. Krizhna and Zarnee try to celebrate the first miscarriage by just being together as a family for what would’ve been the baby’s due date. They don’t celebrate the 2nd miscarriage because they never knew what the due date was since she miscarried very early on. 2 years after her 1st miscarriage, Reginald would always tell Krizhna that he would see his brother. There would be times that he would be alone in the room saying “I’m playing with my brother,” and instead of being scared, it comforts Krizhna, knowing that their baby is still around them. They never got to find out what the gender was either.
“Take all the time you need to mourn your loss,” Krizhna advises other parents who have miscarried. “It is more common than you think it is. You are not alone.. even though it feels like it right now you’re not alone. The loss of a child you never got to meet and hold is something you’ll carry with you for a very long time and although it’ll hurt being reminded of what happened, you are resilient. You will get back up again. As each day passes it’ll hurt less than the day before but the sadness when you’re reminded of it is going to be there so do whatever you need to do to heal – whether it be celebrating the anniversary of the miscarriage or the due date or talking to someone who shares the same experience. There’s always a rainbow at the end of the storm.”
And Zarnee and Krizhna definitely got their rainbow at the end of their storm. They are now raising their beautiful children together in Zarnee’s childhood home. Once Mia was born, they desperately looked for houses that they could call home. There just wasn’t enough room in Krizhna’s grandma’s 1.5 bedroom inlaw. Zarnee knew how important it was for Krizhna to have her family with her, so they searched for houses that fit everyone’s needs. They toured about 10 houses in a span of 1 month, but nothing felt like “the one.”
One day, after touring yet another home, Zarnee went to his parents’ house to pick something up. He updated them that they still didn’t find a house. It was then that his parents asked if they wanted to live in the old family house, and even extended the offer to Krizhna and her family to come along. Zarnee couldn’t believe what his parents were telling him. He gladly accepted the offer, and went home to tell Krizhna and her whole family. He was so happy that his kids would have enough room to run around and for each member of the family to have a room and bed to sleep on, rather than the floor. Zarnee loves the fact that his kids get to grow up in the same house he grew up in.
“To this day, I thank my parents every time I leave their house of the blessing they gave us,” Zarnee explained.
Zarnee and Krizhna have been through hell and back with each other. They never expected that their journey to parenthood would have so many twists and turns. They mended family relationship, they went through heartbreak, they witnessed their children in the NICU, they went from homeless to home owners, and never gave up on each other even in their darkest times. Their main focus now is to raise their children together and be there for them. They embrace every part of their journey to parenthood because it gave them their most precious gifts – Reginald and Mia.